The Colombian Government Will Carry out an Exploration of the Wreck of the San José Galleon in 2024

Colombia's government announces a daring underwater expedition to retrieve treasures from the sunken 18th-century Spanish galleon, San José, near Cartagena.

San José Galleon

Photo: San José Galleon

The Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: El Gobierno colombiano realizará una exploración de los restos del Galeón San José en 2024

Colombian Government's Bold Announcement

In a move that conjures images of age-old mysteries and sunken treasures, the Colombian government has made a groundbreaking announcement: the long-awaited exploration of the San José galleon. This Spanish ship, which succumbed to the depths in the 18th century near the storied city of Cartagena de Indias, has been the subject of fascination and speculation for centuries, mainly because of its fabled cargo of gold and silver coins. In a recent development, Colombian authorities have declared their intention to commence preliminary extracting some of the treasure discovered in 2015.

The undertaking, scheduled between March and May of next year, considers the critical role of sea conditions, as the Colombian Navy explains. The Minister of Culture, Juan David Correa, shared these details following a high-level meeting with President Gustavo Petro. This meeting also included representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the General Maritime Directorate (Dimar), the National Navy, and the State's Legal Defense Agency.

Phase One: Preliminary Extraction and Scientific Analysis

The project's initial phase involves extracting select materials from the ship. These artifacts will be transported to the Navy's headquarters laboratory for scientific analysis. According to Minister Correa, this preliminary extraction will set the stage for a more considerable retrieval effort aimed at creating a public exhibit, fulfilling a commitment made to President Petro.

Minister Correa announced a symposium in Cartagena set for February 2024 in a further commitment to transparency and academic rigor. This event will bring archaeologists, scientists, and Navy members together to discuss the project with the international community.

The Colombian government's proactive approach to this historical endeavor began in earnest in early October of the previous year. An interinstitutional technical committee was formed to conduct a scientific archaeological investigation of the ship. As per the Ministry of Culture, this committee's mandate is to ensure that the exploration adheres to international standards, guaranteeing knowledge production and the valorization of this cultural treasure.

Members of this committee include the Ministry of Culture, the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (Icanh), Dimar, and the National Navy, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State's Legal Defense Agency.

The story of the San José ship is steeped in history and conflict. On June 8, 1708, an English corsair fleet sank the boat as it was en route to Cartagena de Indias. Historical records suggest the ship was laden with approximately 11 million gold and silver eight-escudo coins collected from the Portobelo fair in Panama.

Legal and Diplomatic Disputes: Spain vs. Colombia

The shipwreck's discovery in December 2015 sparked a complex legal and diplomatic dispute between Colombia and Spain. Spain, citing UNESCO regulations, argues that the ship remains a Spanish state vessel due to its flag. In response, the Colombian Ministry of Culture emphasized the government's efforts to design a public-private partnership. This initiative aims to safeguard the heritage site from potential looting by treasure-hunting companies.

Also read: Galeón San José, Colombia's Sunken Treasure and Cultural Heritage

In 2019, in a decisive move to protect the ship's historical and cultural significance, the previous Colombian government declared it a national cultural interest. This designation effectively prohibits financing the salvage operation with any portion of the ship's precious cargo. The government also expressed its desire for international cooperation in this ambitious project.

As Colombia prepares to unveil the secrets of the San José, the world watches with bated breath, eager to witness the unraveling of this maritime mystery. The exploration promises to recover invaluable historical artifacts and shed light on a forgotten chapter of the colonial era.

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